Woven Aluminum Tapestries Anchor a Legendary Ghanian Artist's Retrospective

El Anatsui's most monumental works in wood, tin, and other metals go on display at Jack Shainman Gallery's Upstate New York “School.”

by Antwuan Sargent
May 20 2015, 6:00pm

Stressed World

Intricately crumpled and folded pieces of metal shape the walls of an old schoolhouse, a 30,000 square foot raw space in Kinderhook, New York managed by Jack Shainman Gallery. Five Decades, El Anatsui's new retrospective, tracks the work of the prolific Ghanaian sculptor who just picked up the highest honor at the Venice Biennale, the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement. 

The comprehensive survey features some of his best-known recent works with aluminum. Composed of discarded aluminum often sourced from liquor bottles, Stressed World and Tilted Flower Garden sprawl out on the walls and floors of one gallery, their woven-metal construction bringing attention to the ever-changing nature of exchange between the East and West.

Exhibition view

The installations are similar in tone and size to Gli, which was on display at the Brooklyn Museum as part of the artist solo show entitled, Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui. "Gli," which means, “wall,” “disrupt,” or “story,” in the Ewe language, brings into focus the shared political histories of countries and peoples in an increasingly globalized world. The use of the recycled metal from a local plant in Nigeria where the artist works makes visible both present patterns of consumerism and past colonial relationships.

Club Windows

The show also features Anatsui’s earlier works, including paintings, woodworkings, clay sculptures, and installations that span all the way back to the 1970s. One such work, Open(ing) Market, takes up two classrooms: Hundreds of wood boxes sit slightly ajar across their floors. Seen as a whole, the assemblage of uniquely painted boxes calls attention to the individualism that often drives free peoples, as well as the communal nature of African markets.

Open(ing) Market

The School, as the space is known in the small upstate New York town, was started last year. Says gallerist Jack Shainman, “The School allows us to exhibit the works in new and engaging ways, as well as enables our artists to pursue more experimental and ambitious long-term projects." Since its inception, it has played host to various artists' takeovers, from Nick Cave, to a group show featuring Kerry James Marshall, Carrie Mae Weems, and Isa Genzken, to a solo showing of work by the artist Meleko Mokgosi.

“The School allows us to exhibit the works in new and engaging ways, as well as enable our artists to pursue more experimental and ambitious long-term projects,” says Shainman says. The gallerist, who El Anatsui himself entrusted to install the works, added, “It has been a lifelong dream to exhibit El’s work on this sort of grand scale.”

Womb of Time

El Anatsui’s Five Decades continues at The School in Kinderhook, New York through September, 26, 2015. The School is open Saturdays 11am to 5 pm. 


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